Last month, August 22 to be exact, iconic science fiction, horror and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury would have turned 100. The groundbreaking author of novels like Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles passed away on June 5, 2012.
When I learned of his hundredth birthday I planned to do a tribute article in August. But you know, life happens and all that. It’s never too late, however, to celebrate the literary genius that was Ray Bradbury. During his long career he wrote 27 novels, more than 600 short stories, episodes for his own television series, The Ray Bradbury Theater, for six seasons, and co-wrote the screenplay for the awesome 1956 version of Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck. A true Renaissance writer. Not surprisingly a number of his own works have been adapted for the big screen as well. For this article we will be remembering him in a selection of five films. Let’s get to it:
Honourable Mention: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
When the opening credits said this giant monster flick was “suggested” by a short story by Bradbury (1951’s The Fog Horn to be specific) you knew there was going to be very little of the writer’s work in the actual movie. Back then (and still today) the name “Bradbury” could grab some attention and put butts in seats, so this was clearly a cash grab association. The film itself isn’t that great, with the first half seeing the protagonist trying to convince everyone the monstrous Rhedosaurus exists, and the second half showing the monster rampaging in New York City.
But it is worth a watch for two reasons: firstly, the fantastic stop motion effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen; and secondly this was the first film to have a giant monster awakened by an atomic bomb (it beat Godzilla to the punch by 16 months) and its success helped spawn the giant monster film genre of the 1950s. Oh, and Lee Van Cleef (The Bad from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) shows up in a small role at the end, so that was cool too.
#1 The Illustrated Man (1969)
During my research for this article (research, how fawncy!) I came across a couple of Bradbury-based films I had never seen, and one of them was science fiction film The Illustrated Man. Unfortunately I was not able to view it myself so I had originally left it off the list. Big mistake! After a couple of readers cited the omission, including one who said the film was very faithful to the source material, I decided to include it on the list.
The movie stars Rod Steiger as a tattooed man named Carl whose “skin illustrations” come to life and tell a story when stared at. The three tales in the film are from three short stories in Bradbury’s eponymous 1951 collection: “The Veldt” which deals with virtual reality, “The Long Rain” which is about a mysterious planet, and “The Last Night of the World” which is about, you guessed it, the end of the world. Steiger won an Academy Award for Best Actor two years prior to The Illustrated Man for his intense portrayal of Chief Bill Gillespie in In The Heat of the Night. And even from the trailer I can tell he brings that intensity to this role as well. And the science fiction anthology premise sounds very intriguing as well. Man, I really need to track down this film.
#2 It Came From Outer Space (1953)
Speaking of films ahead of their time, this one features aliens impersonating humans and it predated Invasion of the Body Snatchers by three years. Based on an original story treatment by Bradbury this Sci Fi Horror tells the story of aliens who have crash landed in a small town and begin making copies of the residents. It is up to an amateur astronomer and his fiancé to discover the truth behind their plan.
I had a good time with this one. There is mystery, action and a wonderfully tense atmosphere accentuated by the great music, sound design and camera work. The alien duplicates (including one played by a pre-Gilligan’s Island Russell Johnson) are cold and unnerving. And it all leads to a big blast of a climax. Just a great 50s Sci Fi flick through and through.
#3 The Electric Grandmother (1982)
If there’s one film that demonstrates Bradbury’s range it is television movie The Electric Grandmother, based on his Sci Fi short story I Sing the Body Electric. In the film a family receives the gift of a robotic “grandmother” after the children’s mother passes away. Think a mechanical Mary Poppins.
If this film was any sweeter it would give you cavities. Maureen Stapleton is everybody’s adorable grandmother in the role and is a boundless ball of energy, wisdom and odd abilities. It’s a heart warming, whimsical and touching tale that can be enjoyed by the whole family. The video and sound quality of the version I saw on YouTube was pretty bad, but it was still good enough for me to appreciate this charming little movie.
#4 Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Our next entry is another film featuring children but from the opposite genre spectrum. Something Wicked This Way Comes is a dark fantasy horror film based on Bradbury’s 1962 novel of the same name. The title, which is a glorious congregation of words, comes from a line from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The film tells the story of two boys who discover that the mysterious carnival which has come to town has some very nefarious and otherworldly plans for the hapless residents.
I don’t know why this film doesn’t get talked about more often because it is 12 flavours of awesome sauce. Firstly the leads are just ridiculously good. Jonathan Pryce’s devilish Mr Dark is such an engrossing, Shakespearean villain, and he is ably aided in his machinations by Pam Grier as the lethal and beautiful Dust Witch. Jason Robards does a sterling job as the mild mannered town librarian and the two young leads are solid as well. The story also features strange happenings straight out of a Twilight Zone episode and some nightmare fuel scenes straight out of the best horror movies. Bradbury let his imagination run wild with this tale leading to a truly thrilling viewing experience. Trust me, if you have not caught this terror train yet you need to hop on board.
#5 Fahrenheit 451 (1966 and 2018)
When I think of Ray Bradbury I think of Fahrenheit 451, both the novel and the 1966 film. There is something timeless in his vision of a dystopian future where all reading material is banned and Nazi-like firemen set fires instead of putting them out. The poignant allegories about censorship, propaganda and societal control are as relevant now as they were in 1953 when the novel was published. The first film is an engaging, cerebral affair and the image of a woman immolating herself among her vast library of books will remain with you long after the final credits roll. Iconic film director François Truffaut brings out stellar performances from Oskar Werner as the conflicted Montag and Julie Christie as both the zombified Linda Montag and revolutionary Clarissa. The pacing does drag at times, and the film skips over the Montag pursuit in the final act, but Fahrenheit 451 remains an interesting and thoughtful experience. And the rich themes explored would be revisited in films like 2002 cult classic Equilibrium.
HBO did a remake in 2018 but it is not worth your time. It changes a lot from the original story and adds a bunch of unnecessary subplots. And unlike other modern Hollywood remakes of classic films it is not even an action-heavy adaptation. In fact it is quite dull for most of the run time. The one redeeming factor is that Sofia Boutella looks cute as a blonde. That’s about it. If you really want to enjoy Bradbury’s masterful vision stick to the 1966 version.
So what’s your favourite film based on the work of Ray Bradbury? For the Top 5 Films Based on the Work of Dean Koontz you can click here. And for more Sci Fi Fantastic Articles you can like and follow Redmangoreviews on Facebook here.
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film, creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.